by Harry Zheng

“Care for my own aged parents and extend the same care to the aged parents of others. Love my own young children and extend the same love to the children of others.”

When Jo Lloyd’s second son was born 15 years ago, everything changed in her family – he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). He is not the only one in New Zealand. In fact, ASD affects 1 in 66 people with approximately 65,000 New Zealanders, which is equivalent to the entire region of Otago. Children who have ASD look the same as other people and due to the invisible nature of their disability, it can be much harder to create awareness and understanding.

After Ms Lloyd accepted the fact that ASD is a life-long disability, she didn’t allow herself to be immersed in the emotion of misery and sorrow too long. She began to learn how to train her son and even joined a charitable organisation, Autism New Zealand Inc. Their members include children and adults on the autism spectrum, their families, and professionals who work within the field. It has been 8 years since Ms Lloyd joined the organisation and now, she works as an Outreach Coordinator and an Educator.

The Outreach works with families getting them started on their journey and helping them to connect with the right supports and networks. “We are here for information and support for anyone to do with Autism,” she says. Ms Lloyd also teaches education courses for parents and professionals ranging from one to two days’ workshop.

It is a developmental disability so their training strategies vary at different ages and stages in people’s lives. However, as Ms Lloyd says, “you are born with Autism and you die with Autism. There is no ‘recovery’ as such. It is learning how to live with a diverse range of people.” An ongoing frustration is the lack of support and resources at the government level for people with Autism and their families. Until now, donations are still the major source of income in assisting the organisation to continue its work. “Autism is still very misunderstood and under-resourced in New Zealand,” says Ms Lloyd. “We don’t come under Mental Health yet there are very limited resources for the condition itself. The government does not keep any stats of diagnosis so it is very difficult to argue our cause with no data to back it up.”

Now, they are pushing for this to change. She believes there is much work to be done in the Education sector around Autism and the teachers of these organizations need to be given training in teacher college as well. In terms of future plans, Autism New Zealand’s plan is “to keep empowering people and their families with Autism and to hopefully one day secure some regular government funding.”
Autism training is a highly-specialized work. “We have no real need for volunteers as such,” she says. For the public, she hopes they will “become aware of Autism and the impact it can have on our community and the people caring for someone with Autism.”

“I love my job. We get to see the worst in people and the best in people. Sometimes we are able to make a massive difference in people’s lives.”